The invitation landed in my inbox with a thud.
Usually it wouldn't have been a problem, but the timing of this one was interesting. It came from New Zealand King Salmon, the company applying to change the Marlborough Sounds management plan so it can develop nine new fish farms in the region. The hearing for the application starts its fourth week in Blenheim tomorrow.
The buildup to the hearing was fairly intense, with both the company and the objectors vocal in claim and response. Both reckoned the Express was taking sides. We did our best to stay down the middle, and being criticised by both sides suggests we did that reasonably well.
But when the invitation arrived a while back to go to a King Salmon "rapid prototyping workshop" in Picton, I thought I might be in trouble with the opponents for spending too much time with the company. Yes, that's how sensitive this has become.
After thinking it through and deciding I would have gone if the hearing had not been on, I accepted.
And it turned out I was pretty much the odd man out, the only non-industry person or non-supplier brought in to give a community view.
The forum was a planning session for company managers to look at how they can improve the way they run the salmon farms in the Sounds.
The group I worked with was looking at how to improve the aesthetics of the farms to overcome community opposition. It was a big task.
We started out with a brainstorming session, putting up all the ideas the group could think of. Then we were challenged by the facilitator (from NZ Trade and Enterprise) to think like Superman, so really nothing was an obstacle. More ideas.
And finally we had to think like Homer Simpson, the nuclear power plant employee known for acting and speaking without thinking. This was to get rid of any mental boundaries we might have.
All our ideas were collated to look for common solutions, with a vote on the most practical ideas and the most likely to succeed.
I'm not sure whether our solutions would overcome many objections, but it was interesting to be part of the process looking at how the company works at being a better "neighbour".
The other groups were working on more technical aspects of fish farming and looked to have some good solutions, but I had to leave before the "reporting back" session at the end.
It was a useful and interesting day out of the office.
- The Marlborough Express